Children with sensory impairments celebrate their sounds being archived at the British Library

A young girl, looking thoughtfully up to the roof, with a woman sitting beside herAt the end of an eight month project with Sense Arts and the British Library, we celebrated the archiving of sounds created by young people with sensory impairments.

My name is Emma McGarry and I am a visual artist. Together with another artist, Judith Brocklehurst, we have been working on a Sense and British Library collaboration to deliver an exciting eight-month project with a group of young people with sensory impairments. The project took inspiration from the British Library’s Sound Archive and allowed the national collection of sounds to be brought to a new audience through a series of participatory and exploratory sessions.

The project came to its conclusion and we celebrated with a big final event at the British Library and our own exciting submission.

A boy placing a ball on a homemade ramp, held up on a wooden supportAs the artists leading the project, it was always our hope that the young people and their families would be exposed to new experiences. By the end of the project we wanted them to have a deeper understanding of the technologies that can be used to record and reproduce sound, and how to use them. We also wanted them to have a deeper and creative physical understanding of the sense-based skills that relate to sound, such as touch, and pressure. And we wanted them to gain the confidence to explore these in their own way.

A very physical form of demonstrating sound that we investigated, involved the young people creating three dimensional records with a selection of arts and crafts materials. The records were played on a record player, using a homemade stylus, which could adapt to the undulating surfaces. The resulting sounds were played on a giant speaker, upon which objects could be placed, dancing about to the sound from the records.

A man looks on as three girls demonstrate the personalised record playing

A silver flexible pipe twists down to the ground from a wooden supportThe day long, celebratory event was held at the British Library, including the families. This was a chance for them to celebrate their work and to show their families what they had been doing as part of the project.

In the morning we screened a collection of films that had been made throughout the project, explored green screen technology for the first time, built new and exciting sound sculptures, and experimented with making them move on giant speakers.

After lunch, the group started compiling the elements that would be housed in an archive box, representing the project in the Sound Archive. This box was presented, piece by piece to Jamie Andrews, Head of Culture and Learning at the British Library. All the young people in the group showed signs of growing confidence throughout the project and it was lovely to see how proud they were to present their work to the British Library, demonstrating and explaining each of the different pieces to be archived. The desire to archive the project was shared equally between the young people involved, Judith and I as artists, Sense and the British Library.

A girl and woman discuss which items to place in the archive box

A group of children and a man, standing beside their archive box

The celebratory event ended with a favourite activity of the young people, a giant marble run, taking over a prominent ramp of the British Library foyer.

Aerial view of several people setting up a marble run using wooden legs and pipes, on a ramp in the LibraryThis was perhaps one of the most exciting outcomes from this project for me. The confidence and enthusiasm of the group to take on the challenge of working in such a public space was great to see. The visibility of the project, when we were out on the ramp, was brilliant. It had a positive effect on both the participants – who displayed a sense of pride at working publically – and also on other users of the British Library. Members of the public and British Library staff all stopped to watch the marble run taking place.

A girl preparing to release a ball onto the marble run rampOur approach to the whole project was to encourage the young people to gently extend their own creative boundaries. Going beyond their established comfort zones and exploring the unknown. Over the course of the project I think our freedom as artists rubbed off on the participants, they knew that we would react to what they wanted to do and they had gained the confidence to continually push things in new directions. The celebratory event felt like a moment when all this came together for one last time!


Find out more

The artistic practice of Emma McGarry

The artistic practice of Judith Brocklehurst

British Library Learning


Read more about Sense Arts activities, workshops and events

Can sound be made visible? Exploration via sensory marble runs

Emma McGarry

Author: Emma McGarry

Emma is an artist and anthropologist, commissioned by the British Library to work with young people at a Sense Centre.

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